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Odyssey Marine ordered to pay Spain $1 million in Black Swan case

In this April 2007 photo provided by Odyssey Marine Exploration, Odyssey co-founder Greg Stemm, left, and project manager Tom Dettweiler examine a coin the Tampa treasure hunting company recovered from the “Black Swan” shipwreck.
Published Feb. 10, 2014

Not only did Odyssey Marine Exploration lose the legal battle with Spain over a boatload of treasure, but a federal judge has ordered the Tampa company to pay $1 million for "bad faith and abusive litigation."

Spain wanted $3.3 million in legal fees after it won its claim to a $600 million haul of sunken treasure, dubbed the Black Swan, that Odyssey pulled from the bottom of the Atlantic in 2007.

U.S. courts consistently ruled that the treasure from a sunken Spanish vessel belonged to Spain, though Odyssey had argued that it rightfully retrieved the 17 tons of gold and silver.

"Although the award is only one-third of the amount requested by Spain, it's disappointing that the court was apparently swayed by statements presented by Spain's witnesses during the merits portion of the case that we believe could have been proven false during cross-examination of those witnesses in a trial," said Greg Stemm, Odyssey's chief executive officer.

Odyssey says it might appeal the ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday on Thursday.

The Black Swan treasure was part of the 1804 shipwreck of the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes. The warship was en route from South America to Spain when the British sank it off Portugal.

In December 2009, a federal judge in Atlanta awarded Spain the right to the treasure. But Odyssey appealed that ruling, only to have a U.S. Supreme Court justice affirm the lower court's ruling.

Spain then wanted the legal fees spent fighting over claims to the treasure.

In his 27-page order, Merryday said Odyssey acted in "bad faith" in its handling of the Black Swan case because it did not properly respond to Spain when questioned about the sunken vessel.

"Spain persistently attempted to secure through discovery from Odyssey the claimed identity of the vessel and the evidence supporting that identification," Merryday wrote.

"Of course, Odyssey knew at all times that Spain, given the information pertinent to identification, possessed the historical information and the expertise to identify immediately whether the wreck in question was a Spanish vessel, … " he added. "The fact that Odyssey never asked for Spain's assistance in identifying the vessel reveals much about Odyssey's motives and objectives."

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